Lecturer in English, S. V. University, Tirupati


The chief purpose of celebrating a man’s birth centenary is to remind ourselves of what he has done for the society. To know exactly what Bapuji has done for humanity in general and to us in particular, we have to take into account the context in which he stepped into the arena of Indian politics. By the time Gandhiji entered the political scene, the ground was well prepared and the seeds of freedom were already sown. A number of religious thinkers, like Swami Vivekananda, had created the necessary atmosphere of an awakened religious consciousness. Social reformers, like Raja Rammohan Roy, had effected radical social reforms. Great Political leaders, like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, had boldly declared that freedom is our birthright. The neglected angry young men of India, of whom Aurobindo was one, had inflamed the blood of the youth of the country and created a climate of heroic defiance against the British Raj.


But, in spite of this admirable endeavour in all aspects of life, there was no unified force that could fight against the steel citadel of the British Raj. It was at this vital juncture that Gandhiji arrived and consolidated all the scattered forces and channellised them into a great mass movement of a gigantic freedom fight. He trained himself with unsparing introspective self-analysis and ruthless self-discipline.


The entire humanity, roughly speaking, may be divided into two categories: those who live for themselves, constituting a vast majority, and those who live for others, the tiny minority. Buddha, Christ and Socrates are of the first generation of that small minority. After the advent of materialistic civilisation, Lincoln and in recent times Gandhi and Kennedy strived for the betterment of humanity. In this galaxy of great men, Gandhiji is like a bright star that shines apart. He is unique among them because he voluntarily undertook the rigorous self-discipline of a saint. Without stepping aside from the main stream of the life of ordinary men, he courted the hard task of a political leader. He actively strived to do all that he could for humanity, for its soul as well as the body. It is this effective combination of the saint and the politician that made him a saint among the politicians and a politician among saints.


Being a saint-politician, he hardly left untouched any aspect of Indian life and touched none which he did not ennoble. The fundamental fact which he realised is that man is essentially good and capable of the highest sacrifice. He repeatedly emphasised that all men are equal. No man can choose his birth. He has no chance to choose to be born in a particular group, rich or poor, in a particular caste, high or low, in a particular race, white or black, in a particular country, highly advanced or underdeveloped. Therefore, to love or hate any man purely on the basis of his birth, caste, colour or creed is ignorance, pure and simple. That was the guiding force behind his movement of religious tolerance, human brotherhood and eradication of untouchability.


It is usual to make much of Gandhiji’s services to Hinduism. It is true that he remained a Hindu throughout his life. He remained a Hindu because he saw no need to change. To be more precise, Gandhiji’s religion is a synthesis of all the best of all that had been thought and said till then. He borrowed from all thinkers, from Buddha to Marx, from all books, from the Gita the Avesta, the Bible and the Koran, from Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of

God is within you, Ruskin’s Unto the Last and the writings of Thoreau. So he emphatically declared that “it is not the Hindu religion which I certainly praise above all other religions, but the religion which transcends Hinduism, which changes one’s very nature, which binds indissolubly to the truth within and which ever purifies.”


He practised first and incessantly preached adherence to truth and non-violence, Satyam and Ahimsa, because he realised that they form the heart and brain of the body of human existenc. Truth is the very breath of human coexistence. If all are untrue, all communications of life fail. Non-violence is the law of men as violence is the law of the jungle. Without truth and non-violence, humanity could not have survived. Nothing of value on the earth would have survived if humanity had not followed truth and non-violence, whatever may be its lapses.


But this does not mean that we should be silent before the tyranny of falsehood and tolerate the atrocities of evil. To be silent before falsehood and to bear evil is to co-operate with them. So he made non-co-operation the slogan of freedom struggle. The consolidation of Satyam, Ahimsa and non-co-operation into one principle of the mysticism of action resulted in his forging the weapon of Satyagraha. It is a weapon which fights against all use of brutal force, Satyagraha is the active tolerance of the brave, but not a passive submission of the weak, proceeding from inertia, cowardice and helplessness. Satyagraha is the right weapon to fight against the tyranny of falsehood and atrocities of the forces of evil.


The chief purpose of Satyagraha is to establish the superiority of truth over falsehood, to assert the right over wrong, to fight for the supremacy of good over evil. A Satyagrahi fights against the falsehood and evil in men but not the men themselves. He hates sin but does not hate the sinner. He conquers evils but converts the evil-doers. Satyagraha is a means ethically justified because the final end of the whole effort is one of universal good, a blessing to the entire humanity. It is a fight in which all win.


To use Satyagraha for the ulterior benefit of a group of individuals or community or a selfish cause is not Satyagraha but duragrqha, as Gandhiji himself dubbed it. To allow the man to starve himself to death if he is a duragrahi is better than to concede his demands, because to concede to him is to betray truth for the sake of falsehood. The greatest temptation to a Satyagrahi is the glory of martyrdom. To sacrifice one’s life for a great cause for the glory it brings to one is the greatest reason to human dignity. For, it is to do the right deed for the wrong reason and to martyr the cause for the glory of martyrdom. It is as hypocritical with all the heart on what he should eat after breaking the fast, on the cause for which one goes on a fast. Such a fast is as glorious and common as the usual fast before every breakfast. Hence, Gandhiji’s insistence on the inner purity of a Satyagrahi.


To speak of Gandhian philosophy is against the spirit of his philosophy. The more we speak about it the less we speak it. But as opposed to dialectal materialism of Marx and Lenin, Gandhiji’s philosophy can be called the ethical dialectism. Marx struck a vital deviation from the traditional mode of philosophical thinking before him when he said that the philosophers till then were only interpreting the world when the real point is to change it. But Gandhiji realised that to interpret the world is the first step in changing it. The world changes whether man wants it or not. Therefore, the real point according to Gandhiji is to change the world to the benefit of all, to change it as it must be, not as it has been. Therefore, whereas Marx and Lenin did not hesitate, in fact advocated the use of force to destroy the creeds and institutions of the old world, Gandhiji strongly opposed the use of brutal force and advocated conversion rather than destruction.


For Marx, the happiness of society is more important than the happiness of the individual. Accumulation of wealth by an individual is a social injustice, because it is exploitation of the fruits of the labour of others. So it is the duty of man to fight against capitalism. In fighting against capitalism, man has nothing to lose but everything to gain. Hence revolution is in a way the midwife of socialism. History is a record of the triumph of the rights of the people. For Marx, history is God and history will not go wrong. As such any revolution is bound to succeed.


But Gandhiji believed that social happiness is possible only through individual happiness because society is a collection of individuals. One cannot hurt others without hurting himself and hurting all. Though all people are equal in one respect, in things like their physical needs, different people have different capacities and some are more capable than others. Those who are more capable naturally acquire more. Such people need not be counted as enemies of society but we must make them as custodians of society. To eradicate such men from time to time, in revolution after revolution, is to destroy the precious to preserve the common. To convert them is to enrich all.


After the economic heaven is achieved through revolution, the greatest revolutionary may become the worst reactionary. Marx realised this and suggested that the torch of revolution must be kept perpetually burning to fight against all traces of reactionary forces and at one stage it becomes difficult to distinguish between them, as it has happened in the present day communist world.


As Gandhiji does not advocate revolutionary force, there is no danger of any reactionary force. He believed that enlightenment is the process which converts the revolutionary as well as the reactionary forces into an evolutionary force. The way to enlightenment (not mere literacy) of the masses. No law is needed for the really educated and all laws are useless for the brutes. As long as humanity has the criminal bent of mind, we need the police system and no police system in the world can wipe out crime. So total transformation of all individuals is the surest way to human happiness.


Gandhiji’s patience is uniquely saintly. Once when Gandhiji, Jinnah and Nehru met Churchill, Churchill used all his powers of oratory for about two hours to convince Gandhiji that the concessions he was going to give almost amounted to freedom and would be for the best advantage of India. Gandhiji listened to him so quietly that Churchill began to feel triumphant and the hearts of Jinnah and Nehru began to sink. In the end, Gandhiji quietly asked Churchill to give independence and call it by whatever name he liked. Churchill was speechless with rage and Jinnah and Nehru were dumbfounded. Later, Jinnah asked Gandhiji how he could listen to a speech, advocating the opposite of all they wanted with a deceptive air of making them feel that they were getting what they wanted, so quietly and attentively and asked so calmly what he wanted to ask. Gandhiji replied with his characteristic childlike (not childish) innocence that there was no harm in listening to others and all that Churchill was saying reminded him only what he should ask at the end. “Mr. Gandhi,” said Jinnah, “I call you MAHATMA for the first time.” Gandhi was not only a good speaker but also a good listener. He believed that anger controlled, like steam pressurised, can be converted into energy. So trifles and things that cannot be helped never perturbed him. Once Mahadev Desai, being late, explained to Gandhiji that he was delayed because his friend lost his purse and had to search for it in vain. Gandhiji said with a smile that purses lost cannot be recovered by losing heads.


Gandhiji preferred plain speech to ornate poetic style. When Tagore welcomed him with the words that the damsel of Santiniketan invites him with all her heart, Gandhiji quietly replied that he was unhappy to know that there was still ‘hope’ for an old man like him. His reaction to beauty was spontaneous and sincere. When he saw Venkatappa’s painting of snow-covered mountains, he remarked that he felt chill. He saw beauty in all things of life. When he was shown a beautiful garden of flowers, he said that while appreciating the efforts of the owner he would have felt more happy and it would have been more beneficial, if fruits and vegetables were grown with such care. Then one of the men said that flowers delight the soul with their beauty, colour and scent, just as fruits and vegetables give nourishment. Gandhiji’s reply was that fruits and vegetables were as full of colour and fragrance as flowers if only we could perceive them. Beauty lies as much in the eyes and mind of the beholder as in the objects seen.


It is really sad and painful that such a man and thinker was brutally killed by a Hindu. That is how humanity always rewards those that serve them most. But the great martyrs accepted the painful reward with the gentle words: “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do...,” and triumph even in their death. It is easy to kill or worship a man but very difficult to understand and follow him. However it does not matter how a man dies but what really matters is how he lived and what he did. Great souls never ask what man has done for them but they always ask themselves what they have done for humanity and the world. The moment when every man asks himself the same question, surely the kingdom of God will appear on earth.




“God did not create men with the badge of superiority or inferiority: no scripture which labels a human being as inferior or untouchable because of his or her birth can command our allegiance; it is denial of God and Truth which is God.”